Baseline to Baseline, when the stars take a seat

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What you missed while walking the picket lines is solidarity of the right to drink on the job

Bulls 109, Cavaliers 108: In the first round, the Bulls can beat the Cavaliers. This game proves it. Providing LeBron James doesn’t play. And Shaquille O’Neal. And Delonte West.

With the game on the line, the Bulls had their go to man in Rose, but it was Joakim Noah who had a key tip in and hit a late 18 footer with his ugly release. Meanwhile Kirk Hinrich had a couple good defensive possessions on Mo Williams, who was playing the role of LeBron James by doing everything.

That meant on the last play, Hinrich was able to keep Williams off the ball, and Anderson Varejao had the ball with and open look, spent three seconds desperately looking to pass, then took the 12 footer and missed. But the offensive rebound came to Cleveland — and again it was Varejao with the open shot. And again he clanked it. That was good defense by the Bulls to get the win.

Bulls and Raptors now tied for eighth. Sunday will be fun.

Nuggets 98, Lakers 96: Let’s be clear — we can read nothing into this game about the playoffs. Kobe Bryant sat out for the Lakers, as did Andrew Bynum. Kenyon Martin did not play for the Nuggets. Denver was on the second night of a back-to-back. This was just a regular-season game.

But a fun one. Entertaining down to the end. Carmelo Anthony was bothered by Ron Artest all night but outscored him 9-0 in the final five minutes. Chauncey Billups was steady and hit big shots key three. The Nuggets made the plays when they had to, including on defense.

Without Kobe the Lakers shot like crap from the perimeter — Derek Fisher 2 of 11, Sasha Vujacic 3 of 12, Shannon Brown 3 of 12, Jordan Farmar the best of the bunch at 3 of 8. For those of you scoring at home, that is 26.2 percent. Then with 14 seconds left and the Lakers down one Brown threw an unnecessary and lazy outlet pass that became a turnover.

Then there was Fisher and Lamar Odom miscommunication on the final play (this was a regular Lakers set but where the screen is set depends on the matchups). Phil Jackson had opted not to call at time out, as is his want, and the result was rather than a play to get the ball inside the Lakers ended up with a broken play where Fisher tried to launch a three over Anthony. The Nuggets made the plays, Anthony got the block. And for now the Nuggets are second in the West.

Kings 116, Clippers 94: Meaningless game, but one team was still doing the little things. The Kings tend to recognize the mismatch and go at it. For a stretch the Clippers tried to put Baron Davis on Andres Nocioni, and the Kings cleared it out so Nocioni could post him up. Two buckets.  The Kings were doing that all night, things like sealing off guys in the post then getting a good entry pass. You, don’t see the Clippers doing that. The Clippers are mailing it in.

Tyreke Evans was Tyreke Evans, which was too much for the Clippers. So was Jason Thompson being Jason Thompson. Great games from the Kings future stars. Sacramento also grabbed 35% of their missed shots for offensive rebounds, that’s just a lot of second chance points.

Report: Kings meet with former Magic GM Otis Smith about front-office job

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The Kings lost Scott Perry to the Knicks, so Sacramento is seeking someone else to aid Vlade Divac in the front office.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Former Orlando Magic general manager Otis Smith has met with Sacramento Kings officials about the franchise’s vacant vice president of basketball operations job, league sources told ESPN.

Smith has plenty of experience, which Divac lacks. But it’s not all good experience.

Running the Magic, Smith made numerous errors – including drafting Fran Vazquez (who has never played in the NBA) No. 11, overpaying Rashard Lewis and then trading Lewis for Gilbert Arenas’ even worse contract. If Smith’s Orlando tenure is predictive, he’ll indulge the Kings’ worst tendencies to mortgage the future for the present.

That said, Smith might have learned from his time with the Magic (though working under Stan Van Gundy with the Pistons the few couple years isn’t exactly the best place to hone long-term-planning skills). What amounts to an assistant general-manager role might be a better fit for him, too.

Usually, this opening wouldn’t garner so much attention. But Perry was lavished with praise for Sacramento’s offseason, raising the profile of this job – which already carried relative prominence. The No. 2 in the Kings’ front office is now perceived, somewhat fairly, as more important than the typical assistant general manager.

Lakers sign Tyler Ennis to minimum contract

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Jut before the trade deadline, the Lakers took a flier on Tyler Ennis, who had struggled in two-plus seasons with the Suns, Bucks and Rockets.

The former No. 18 pick finally looked like an NBA player in Los Angeles, so he’s returning.

Lakers release:

The Los Angeles Lakers have signed guard Tyler Ennis, it was announced today by General Manager Rob Pelinka.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

This is fantastic value for the Lakers. Ennis is probably worth a minimum salary, and if he is, they have him for two years at that price. If not, they can drop him for no cost next summer, when their cap room will be at a premium. This is the type of bet smart teams make, which bodes well for the Magic Johnson regime.

Ennis’ productivity in Los Angeles might not be sustainable. He shot well above his career marks on 3-pointers and free throws in a small sample. But he looked more comfortable on the court, showing some of the savvy he was expected to bring from Syracuse. He’s also just 22, and point guards tend to develop later than other positions.

The Lakers still have their room exception, which they could use on another point guard. So, it’s uncertain whether Ennis will back up Lonzo Ball or fall to third string. I’m not sure any remaining free-agent point guards – Ty Lawson, Deron Williams, Brandon Jennings, Ramon Sessions – will command more than the minimum or playing time over Ennis, though.

What team does Kyrie Irving start next season with? Betting odds favor Cleveland

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Kyrie Irving may want out of Cleveland, but the Cavaliers are not obligated to trade him. They are starting to explore their options, but they would be wise to be patient and wait for good deal, one that gets them quality players in return who can help now and help build for the future.

With that in mind, check out the betting odds from online gaming site Bovada on where Irving will start next season.

Cleveland Cavaliers 1/1
New York Knicks 3/1
Phoenix Suns 5/1
Boston Celtics 7/1
Denver Nuggets 9/1
Minnesota Timberwolves 12/1
San Antonio Spurs 14/1
Miami Heat 20/1
Milwaukee Bucks 25/1
Atlanta Hawks 33/1

No way I would put money on the Celtics, like Danny Ainge wants to help the Cavaliers stay strong. The Knicks number includes people thinking there would be a Carmelo Anthony for Irving swap, but that is highly unlikely. The Suns will not put Josh Jackson in a deal, which ends that talk without a three-way deal. I could go on, but you get the point.

Bottom line is that so long as the Cavaliers keep their asking price sky high, it will be difficult for any deal to happen. Which is why the Cavs are still the smart bet.

Reports: Minnesota explores Kyrie Irving trade, but is Andrew Wiggins part of it?

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are “starting to engage in trade talks” for Kyrie Irving, whether LeBron James wants him back or not.

The problem is finding a deal. Cleveland wants a massive haul in return — a young stud talent, a player who can start and help them now, and picks. They’re not likely to get all of that, but as talks start the Cavaliers are wisely going in asking for everything but the Iron Throne and see if anyone relents.

Irving listed the Minnesota Timberwolves as a preferred destination, and the Wolves are serious about exploring that, something well-connected AP reporter Jon Krawczynski said on 1500AM ESPN Twin Cities Wednesday.

Minnesota could make this work with a trade of Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, and maybe a pick, but the Cavaliers likely don’t want that deal as is, so it requires a third team to take on Dieng or another salary. It would be complex. If it came to be, it would send Wiggins back to the team that drafted him, then traded him for Kevin Love in the wake of LeBron James choosing to return to Cleveland.

The big question is, do the Timberwolves want to put Wiggins in the deal? Should they? That is more than a Tom Thibodeau question, that is a talk with the owner Glen Taylor decision.

Wiggins averaged 23.6 points per game last season, shot 35.6 percent from three, and has become an offensive force who can get buckets and puts defenders in posters. He likely will get a max contract extension and deserves it. However, he hasn’t been as efficient a scorer as hoped yet, his passing skills and rebounding need work, and he is not the defender he was projected to be out of college (ESPN’s defensive plus/minus is a flawed stat, but it still had Wiggins only ahead of Doug McDermott and Shabazz Muhammad as small forwards, and that’s bad company to keep).

Wiggins also is just 22 years old and entering his fourth NBA season. He should improve, as he has each year in the NBA (though mostly focused on the offensive end).

It’s a tough question Thibodeau and the Timberwolves need to ask: Is Wiggin’s ceiling better than Irving’s? Do they want to max out Wiggins with an extension, or leave that to another team? Wiggins hasn’t been a great defender, but he has potential still, and we know Irving is weak on that end. We also don’t know if Irving would fit better with Karl-Anthony Towns than Wiggins. What we do know is Irving is an elite scorer and also a very popular player who will pack the building home and road. We also know Wiggins has missed just one game in three seasons, while Irving has an injury history.

Minnesota would be exchanging risks. With Irving, Towns and Jimmy Butler, the Timberwolves move into “challenge the Warriors now” mode for the next two years, while all those guys are under contract. Is that where Minnesota wants to be, going at the Warriors hard while they are fully loaded? The risk would be one or both of Butler and Irving could walk in two seasons, leaving the team to rebuild (sort of) around KAT. If the Timberwolves keep Wiggins, and he takes steps forward — particularly defensively — they are built for the longer haul, but that has risks as well (for example, will those players develop, and will Butler stay?).

I’m not sure Minnesota puts Wiggins on the block. If they did, it’s another thing entirely to think a deal gets done. Which is to say, all of this is a longshot.

Just know the Timberwolves are serious about exploring it.